Fresh head count – 03 Mar 2023

THE Seventh Housing and Population Census physically got underway on Wednesday at a time when the nation faces multiple crises. Yet in order to plan for a better future, this crucial exercise needs to be conducted in a transparent and credible fashion, to avoid the serious questions that arose about the accuracy of the 2017 head count. Enumerators have begun to fan out across Pakistan, while the drive to encourage self-enumeration (to save time) on the dedicated PBS portal had begun several days ago. The main feature of this exercise is that it is being dubbed the country`s first `digital census`, thanks to the use of technology to record data. Surely, if technology, such as the tablets the enumerators are carrying with them, is used to its fullest potential, many of the lacunae of past counts intentional or otherwise can be addressed to produce a more accurate picture of the nation`s current demographic trends.

Population counts were held with regularity, every decade or so, until the 1981 census. However, the fifth and sixth censuses were held after unacceptably wide gaps. On the other hand, the current exercise is being held earlier than scheduled, considering the quantum of complaints regarding the 2017 head count.

The main point is that this multibillion-rupee exercise, costing thousands of man hours, must be a credible one and not fall prey to controversy of any kind. Unless there is accurate demographic data, everything from resource distribution to allocation of seats in the legislatures becomes skewed. For example, in the 2017 count, there were concerns that areas of urban Sindh were undercounted. Many independent experts have concurred that there was an undercount of urban areas. Considering the trend of rural-urban migration, it is essential that the PBS comes up with the right numbers this time. There have also been issues with the portal itself. If people are having trouble trying to register their particulars on the first digital census`s official portal, it may not inspire confidence about the future. But if reliable data is captured in real time, and technology is harnessed to help analyse and sort this data, complaints of malfeasance can be suitably addressed. Political parties, civil society, and most of all the people of Pakistan need to be assured that the count will be fair, and help pave the way for a better planned future.

Read more